Every tourist who comes to Coorg, a hill town in the state of Karnataka, is told a visit to Bylakuppe, the second largest Tibetan settlement in India, is a must. When I was there over a long and wonderfully chilly weekend, I too was asked to do the same. But I didn’t think much of the idea. What would I even do in a sleepy town full of monks and monasteries? Yet, for lack of better options, I decided to drive down to the town. What I didn’t know at the time was that I would end up learning a precious lesson from this trip.
The 40-km drive from Virajpet to Bylakuppe was sunny and pleasant. As I entered Bylakuppe, I felt a palpable difference in the atmosphere. There were tourists everywhere–queuing up at the Tibetan restaurants and haggling in the shopping complexes–and yet, there was a peaceful energy that seemed to envelop the town. The sight of multi-coloured Tibetan flags and lines of maroon-clad monks made me feel like I had entered a whole other country.
Not only have the Tibetans lived peaceful, spiritual lives themselves, but have also preached the Buddhist values of oneness and wisdom to other people in the town.
Before heading to a monastery, I decided to pull over by a local tea stall for a quick cuppa. Sipping on my tea, I struck up a conversation with the owner. Much to my surprise, he was quite knowledgeable about the town’s history. “They (the monks) came here in 1959, madam,” he said. “There were riots happening in their country, you see?” He told me most of the Tibetan refugees had settled in and around Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh, and only a few of them had migrated further into India and found a home in Bylakuppe.
I was impressed. Tens of decades have passed since their arrival in India, and not only have the Tibetans lived peaceful, spiritual lives themselves, but have also managed to preach the Buddhist values of oneness and wisdom to other people in the town. Excited to explore more of the town, I finished my tea and set out. Along the way, I came across many locals dressed in the characteristic maroon robes. The joy I saw in their genuinely tranquil, smiling faces was indeed contagious. Smiling myself, I entered the Namdroling Monastery, the biggest monastery in Bylakuppe.
The monastery, also known as The Golden Temple, is adorned with intricate paintings on the inner and outer walls of the temple. As I walked in, my jaw dropped at the sight of the three giant, golden statues of Buddhas–Buddha Shakyamuni, Guru Padmasambhava, and Buddha Amitayus–at the end of the hall.
Where there is inner peace, the chaos of the outer world automatically dissipates. Perhaps, this is the secret behind the monks’ admirable way of life.
In front of the statues, hundreds of monks sat chanting. Even though the monastery was full of tourists, who were clicking photographs and chattering loudly, the monks went about their prayers undistractedly. Every once in a while, when the cymbals clashed, bells rang and drums beat, the chanting grew louder and more powerful. The first time it happened, I and the other tourists went quiet as we watched the monks and listened to their chanting, with awe.
However, people started chattering away in a while. I was trying hard to soak in the calming effect of the chants, and I was quite annoyed by the unabashedly loud tourists. But the monks remained unperturbed; they chanted on in unison, their focus razor sharp, their pitch uniform. This moment of observation inspired me to try and focus solely on the reverberation of the monks’ chanting. I was not sure how many minutes had passed, but with deliberate concentration, I managed to tune out the noise from the crowd.
By the time I hit the road back to Coorg, something in me had changed a little. I found myself reflecting on what I had experienced at the monastery. When the mind is calm and peaceful, focus comes naturally and wisdom emerges from within. Where there is inner peace, the chaos of the outer world automatically dissipates. Perhaps, this is the secret behind the monks’ admirable way of life. Maybe, therein lies an important lesson. If each of us applied this to our own lives, we might just bring more peace to ourselves, and with persistence, perhaps even our surroundings.